- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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The Rangers did not secure last season's top seed in the Eastern Conference on skill, but rather they did so on the gritty, physical, self-sacrificing style of play that the team has taken years to cultivate as its collective identity.
That has been missing so far this season as the team dropped its first two games of the lockout-shortened 48-game schedule.
"We definitely have to have more bite than we did in the first two games," said veteran center and alternate captain Brad Richards.
With one goal and two assists through the opening weekend, Richards has been one of the team's top contributors. But he isn't getting that much help. The Rangers haven't shown the elements that made them one of the most feared opponents in the league last year. They've been beaten to pucks, out-muscled in individual battles and hemmed into their own zone for long stretches in each game.
Now they're four points out of the Atlantic Division lead, a stat that should be laughable if not for the truncated 2013 season and the importance of a hot start.
"It's hard to pinpoint why that desperation and the way we play hasn't come around yet," defenseman Marc Staal told ESPNNewYork.com. "I think it's all mental. We have to get that arrogance back."
"The corner battles, the good stick play, the things that were lights-out for us last year, we've got to get back to that," Staal said.
Coach John Tortorella believes it's mental, too. But that's no excuse.
"Plain and simple, we're not hard enough," he said.
Tortorella said the team's mindset must improve and that the team must not and will not use lockout rust or an uncharacteristically short training camp as a crutch. Mental toughness has to be an active choice.
"The other teams, they seem to find it," Tortorella said. "We haven't."
Thankfully for the Rangers, the team will not be without winger Chris Kreider on Wednesday in a quick turnaround rematch against the Bruins at home. Kreider practiced Tuesday despite looking shaken up after an crushing open-ice hit from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik on Sunday.
Kreider said his jaw tightened up after the hit but that no concussion test was needed.
"I think there's a lot more that I can give," Kreider said. "From a team standpoint, I know guys aren't happy with where we're at."
Making the daunting jump from college hockey to the NHL in the middle of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season, Kreider got a quick feel for what type of team he was joining. That's what he hopes to see again soon.
"Stubborn. Really, really hard to play against," he said. "Teams that see us on the schedule and say that 'we're in for a tough game.'"
91dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald